1. Executive summary
This document, submitted by the Scottish Government to the Home Office and Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), sets out a proposal for a bespoke rural visa pilot scheme to facilitate migration to remote and rural areas in Scotland.
The development of this proposal has been led jointly by Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, and Neil Gray, Minister for Europe, Culture, and International Development, together working with Scottish local authorities and key stakeholders representing employers based within remote and rural communities in Scotland. It builds upon wider work the Scottish Government has submitted to the Migration Advisory Committee to date on migration policy within the current UK constitutional framework, which has highlighted how the current UK immigration system does not meet the economic and demographic needs of Scotland’s communities. The Migration Advisory Committee accepted in 2019 that the ‘current migration system is not very effective in dealing with the particular problems remote communities experience.’
The Scottish Government has repeatedly emphasised the urgency of the challenge for remote and rural communities, with restricted immigration following the ending of free movement threatening the economic and social viability of many areas. Many of these areas are particularly dependent on migration, with very few roles in remote and rural geographies meeting currently required salary thresholds or other criteria to recruit.
The Migration Advisory Committee highlighted evidence from the Scottish Government on remote communities in their report of May 2019, and recommended the UK Government pilot a scheme to attract and retain migrants in remote areas. The then-Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, accepted that recommendation to develop a pilot scheme in a Written Ministerial Statement on 23 July 2019.
Following that commitment, the Scottish Government commissioned the independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (EAG) to produce an analysis outlining three practical, deliverable, and evidence-based models for a remote and rural migration pilot scheme, which could be implemented within the current UK immigration system. The report consisted of the following policy options:
i. Adjustment to the Skilled Worker Route
ii. Scottish Visa
iii. Remote and Rural Migration Partnership Scheme
Between Spring and Summer 2022, the Scottish Government consulted on the options, with a short-life working group comprised of twelve rural (and/or island) Scottish local authorities along with a range of business partners. Using the expertise and views from the working group, the feedback obtained has directly shaped this proposal in order to best reflect the differentiated needs across Scotland’s remote and rural communities.
We have developed a robust and deliverable proposal which draws on international evidence, clearly reflects the needs of local communities and employers, and based on existing immigration enforcement.
Proposed pilot scheme: establishing a Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot
The main body of this proposal focuses on the opportunity for the UK Government to establish a version of the Remote and Rural Migration Partnership Scheme set out in the Expert Advisory Group paper. For the purposes of this paper, this is now named the Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot (SRCIP). The proposed scheme is modelled on place-based migration solutions shown through the Canadian Atlantic Immigration Program and Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. It sets out a practical and robust approach to delivering a pilot scheme between the UK Government, Scottish Government, local authorities, employers and communities.
The SRCIP would present a distinctly new, community-driven and employer-based migration route. It would offer a world-leading approach to spread the benefits of immigration to smaller communities, enabling migration – based upon genuine employment opportunity – which would meet the economic and societal needs of a specific community (either in respect to acute shortage, or potential for future growth/regeneration).
Participating employer-sponsors within designated geographic areas referred to as Community Pilot Areas would be able to advertise vacancies (using SRCIP bespoke entry criteria). Employers and communities would then be able to assess prospective candidates, before recommending chosen candidates to the Home Office for final approval and security checks. Once a decision is approved, community partners – including employers, local statutory, and third sector services – would offer a package of integrated settlement support services for newcomers. Participating employers, in collaboration with Scottish Government and UK Government organisations, would also have responsibility for ensuring that terms and conditions of the scheme continued to be met.
Migrants would be required to adhere to conditions of employment whereby they are employed within the designated Community Pilot Area, with restrictions easing gradually over a period of four years. Migrants entered on the scheme would be strongly encouraged to live within the Community Pilot Area (with robust measures in place among partners to ensure migrants are supported to settle within the designated Community Pilot Area where possible).
After four years, restrictions would lift and migrants would be free to work anywhere in the UK, outside of their Community Pilot Area. Due to integrated settlement support offered and the focus on a community-driven scheme, it is the desired and intended outcome of the pilot that a majority of migrants would have established deeper roots in the community, and would continue to stay there beyond the four years. It should be noted the controls placed upon employment within this scheme are not dissimilar from place controls in other visa routes. For example, Skilled Worker Visas tie individuals to a specific role with a specific employer; while Student Visas tie an individual to a specified course at a specific university. This design would therefore build on precedent of controls operating within existing visa routes – and as a result would remove challenges in relation to enforcement.
Though this proposal sets out how the SRCIP would be delivered within Community Pilot Areas, it is not within its scope to identify which communities would be selected. It is anticipated that decisions about the geographic size and boundaries of a participating Community Pilot Area would need to be considered in a shared forum including the UK Government, Scottish Government, Migration Advisory Committee, and local authorities. However, this proposal makes an initial suggestion that participating ‘community’ areas could be drawn using ‘Travel to Work Area’ (TTWA) geographic units to ensure appropriate size. (Note: while this proposal is primarily focussed on the implementation of the SRCIP in the Scottish context, the scheme itself has been designed in such a way to have broader applicability across the rest of the UK, where TTWAs also apply.)
Finally, the proposal sets out a robust and secure series of tests and controls, the roles of different organisations (including the Scottish Government as an ‘interlocutor’ and the roles of local authorities), along with additional considerations that would need to be worked through in the design and implementation of a SRCIP. To provide time to effectively implement, measure, and monitor the outcomes, it is anticipated the pilot be delivered for a minimum of 5 years.
Any approach to support attraction and retention to remote and rural communities must be balanced with rigorous testing to monitor its effectiveness. Details are included as to how the scheme could be measured on its objectives to strategically mitigate the impacts of local level population decline, to respond to critical labour market challenges, and – crucially – to retain migrants within targeted areas for the medium to long term once they have freedom to move, ensuring the continued economic and social viability of smaller communities.
However, given one role of this proposal is to open up an advanced conversation regarding bespoke migration solutions with the UK framework, there are a number of considerations that – if approved by UK Government – would need to be taken forward through a joint forum involving the UK Government, Scottish Government, Migration Advisory Committee, Expert Advisory Group and local delivery partners.
Baseline ask: upcoming SOL review
Whilst the principal focus of this proposal rests on the community-driven partnership approach of the SRCIP, the Scottish Government remains open and flexible in regard to delivering migration solutions which can improve and maximise outcomes for remote and rural communities.
The Scottish Government notes the upcoming review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) led by the MAC as an opportunity to consider an adjustment to the existing list to better meet the needs of remote rural areas in Scotland. This is discussed briefly in Section 7, and the Scottish Government calls upon the UK Government to work with the MAC and the Scottish Government to ensure that the interest of Scotland’s remote and rural communities are appropriately considered within the review.
Summary of asks:
Implementing a rural visa pilot would represent an additional bespoke solution – alongside many others – implemented within the current immigration system. Many policies currently in operation, such as the differentiated approach to family migration for people in Northern Ireland and the Scotland Only Shortage Occupation List, demonstrate how bespoke solutions can be implemented where there is clear evidence of need. The UK Government has consistently argued that the immigration system needs to deliver for all parts of the UK. With specific challenges being faced by Scotland’s remote and rural communities, now is the time to give active consideration to proposed system adaptations - as part of the Levelling Up Agenda - which aim to result in better outcomes for communities, local and regional economies.
Therefore, the Scottish Government makes the following asks of the UK Government:
- To commit to implementing a Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot, in collaboration with the Scottish Government and partners, with a view to launching the pilot in 2023
- To create a joint UK Government-Scottish Government forum (with representation from both the Migration Advisory Committee, the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population, and local delivery partners), to support the design, implementation, and oversight of the SRCIP
In addition, we ask the UK Government to:
- To commit to the baseline ask to consider an adjustment to the existing Scottish Shortage Occupation List to better represent the needs of remote and rural areas in Scotland
- To commit to establish an agreed mechanism involving the MAC, Scottish Government and local delivery partners to effectively and efficiently incorporate the needs and requirements of remote and rural areas into the Shortage Occupation List, and to monitor and evaluate changes to ensure desired impact for communities is realised.
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